ST. GEORGE — As lawmakers gather during the 2017 legislative session, some policymakers have mental health at the forefront of their minds.
While the path to reducing suicides in Utah is still under construction, the Utah Senate is improving the foundation by creating a crisis hotline in which callers may speak to a licensed clinician 24/7.
Utah has one of the highest age-adjusted suicide rates in the U.S., according to the 2015 Utah Suicide Prevention Program Report, which notes suicide was the second leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 39 years old in 2013 and the No. 1 cause of death for youth ages 10-17.
“More people attempt suicide than are fatally injured,” the report states.
On Jan. 23, the Statewide Crisis Line bill, designated as SB 37, found overwhelming support, passing the Senate with a favorable recommendation in a 26-0 vote with 3 not voting. Senators representing Southern Utah, Ralph Okerlund, Don Ipson, Evan Vickers and David Hinkins, all voted in favor of the bill. It has now gone to the House and is being considered by the House Governing Operations Committee.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, enacts provisions related to the creation of a statewide mental health crisis line, specifically aiming to create a one-year commission that would figure out how to best provide services and fund such a crisis line.
The suicide crisis line is defined in the bill as a statewide phone number or other response system that allows an individual to contact and interact with a qualified mental or behavioral health professional 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
“We do not know, right now, what the best process is going to be,” Thatcher said on the Senate floor. “We simply know that we need to figure it out.”
Utah currently has 19 scattered crisis numbers that operate at different times, Thatcher said, noting that nine of those numbers connect to a 911 operator unqualified to handle suicide calls and that another nine of them go to push button menus.
A forthcoming bill, Thatcher said, will attempt to establish a statewide three-digit number, such as perhaps 611, for crisis intervention.
- Read the bill: 2017 SB 37 – Statewide Crisis Line
- Contact legislators
- Bill sponsor: Daniel Thatcher | Floor sponsor: Steve Eliason
- Southern Utah Sens. Ralph Okerlund, Don Ipson, Evan Vickers and David Hinkins | Listing of all senators.
- Southern Utah Reps. Walt Brooks, Merrill Nelson, Brad Last, John Westwood, Mike Noel, V. Lowry Snow and Jon Stanard | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives
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